From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Churches, Habitat bring change to tough neighborhood
Thu, 13 Dec 2001 14:47:54 -0600
Dec. 13, 2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
By Todd Cohen*
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (UMNS) - Local United Methodists are getting a hands-on
lesson in two ideas that often can seem abstract - the church as a
"connectional" entity, and its mission of changing the world.
Fifty-eight United Methodist churches have teamed up with Habitat for
Humanity of Forsyth County to help heal a tough neighborhood in downtown
Winston-Salem. While Habitat projects are nothing new for churches, this
effort is aimed at transforming a part of the community where drugs,
prostitution and other social problems are severe.
The churches and Habitat have built a half-dozen houses on one block and are
geared to do more.
"We do a lot of proclamation about this whole idea of transforming the
world," said the Rev. Howard Fleming, pastor of Pine Grove United Methodist
Church in Kernersville and a tri-chair of the Winston-Salem District's
Habitat project. "This gives people a tangible vision. You can see the world
The project brings people together, embodying the idea of the church as a
ministry that connects congregation members, he said.
Habitat also has been changed by the experience, learning that "an
investment in an unstable, volatile neighborhood can dramatically change the
whole environment," said Sonja Murray, director of development for the
Christian housing charity.
That lesson did not come easily, however, and key players needed coaxing.
The catalyst was Centenary United Methodist Church on West Fifth Street in
Worried about drugs, prostitutes, homeless people and "drink houses," the
church in 1994 offered to finance and build a Habitat house on 13th Street
between Patterson and Ivy avenues.
Habitat previously had built houses only in relatively safe neighborhoods,
Murray said, but the church "pushed us to go out of the box."
Habitat agreed. It then had to find someone to buy the house and live in it,
and asked Christine Jones, who lived with two young daughters in another
rough neighborhood near 25th Street.
"I told them I was scared," said Jones, an underwriter at Partners National
When Habitat promised to build more houses on the block, Jones signed on.
Centenary built her house and, in December 1994, she moved in.
First Christian Church quickly built a second house for Habitat, which
continued its neighborhood revival after all the United Methodist churches
in the Winston-Salem District offered to finance and build five more Habitat
houses on the block.
"It's better," said Jones, who conceded the neighborhood still has problems.
"We look out for each other. I consider us a family because we're all
Starting in March, Habitat will build 10 houses on 14th Street, where drugs,
prostitution and other criminal activity have migrated from 13th Street.
The United Methodist churches will raise $360,000 to finance seven of the
houses, and 2,000 congregation volunteers will build them. Habitat is
seeking corporate or church sponsors for the other three.
Habitat's partnership with the United Methodists and the foothold it has
established on 13th Street have led to projects in other crime-ridden
neighborhoods in partnership with the city and private builders, said
The 13th Street project "totally changed Habitat's perspective," said former
board member Max Morgan, a Centenary member who co-chaired the district's
financing of the project. "Instead of only building houses for the working
poor, we expanded the mission to also bringing about change in
The project has strengthened bonds among district members, he said.
"The membership within the district, apart from that cadre that works in
committees and commissions, didn't know each other," he said. "During the
construction phase, there was a huge interaction among the general lay
The Rev. Thomas Hurley, superintendent of the Winston-Salem District,
The project fosters fellowship, he said. "It strengthens our connectional
system and it makes our community better."
# # #
*Cohen is editor and publisher of Nonprofitxpress at www.npxpress.com. He
resides in Raleigh, N.C.
United Methodist News Service
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